Generation X is the first novel about the popular "junior team" of mutants from the Generation X comic book series. The team's venture into prose form was written by series creator Scott Lobdell along with comic book and superhero novel veteran Elliot S. Maggin. There is much about the novel that is enjoyable and it features some surprisingly innovative and interesting innovations. It should appeal to fans of the Generation X series and to fans of Lobdell or Maggin. But it is also marred by some serious flaws and isn't among the best superhero novels available.
Scott Lobdell is the writer who created this team of teenaged mutants, studying under the tutelage of Sean Cassidy (the Irish former X-Man known as Banshee) and Emma Frost (the former foe of the X-Men, known as White Queen). Lobdell has no doubt brought much in the way of authenticity and inside knowledge to the novel's characterizations. But the style and experience of Elliot S. Maggin really shows through. It is Maggin's experience as the author of two popular Superman novels (Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday) that is brought to the fore in the novel's pacing and style. Fans of Maggin's Superman novels, and his later magnum opus Kingdom Come, will enjoy reading Generation X as well.
Unfortunately, despite being co-written by Lobdell, who should know his own characters well, there are a few very annoying differences between the kids' powers as described in the novel versus the comic book series. The most egregious errors have to do with Synch's powers. He seems to have picked up extra powers in this novel that I can't recall ever seeing in the comics or in later Generation X novels. In this novel Synch has the ability to "synch up" not only with mutants, but also with other animate and even inanimate objects. He uses this ability at various times to control the voice of different people to put words into their mouths, make a sandwich fly apart and then reassemble perfectly, and even to levitate the parts of a van from a long distance to bring it closer.
If one reads the novel in isolation, these powers might not technically be considered an error, because the novel remains internally consistent. But the problem is, there's really no reason for anyone to read this novel unless they're familiar with the comic book series. Lobdell and Maggin probably have few fans outside of the comic industry, and nobody is going to mistake this for a book analogous to Tom Sawyer or The Time Machine.
The many scenes in which Synch utilizes these newfound abilities are engagingly described. The scene with the sandwich parts flying around the restaurant is particularly powerful in its imagery. But attributing these abilities to Synch is simply annoying. If one logically considers the implication of these aspects of Synch's power, then Synch can be thought of as having not only the power-stealing capabilities of Rogue, but also the body-controlling powers of Karma (or other telepaths) and the telekinetic power of the Phoenix or Cable. This overabundance of ability makes him less vulnerable and less interesting, and certainly less in line with his comic series portrayal.
Another mistake, but a smaller one, is the description of Skin (and Synch when using Skin's power) as stretching his limbs long distances, not just his skin. He isn't supposed to be Mr. Fantastic or Plastic Man, yet in the novel it is sometimes his hands or feet that he extends to wrap around a pole or something, when it should simply be his extended skin.
On the plus side, there was quite a bit of attention given to the powers, history, and thoughts of Jono (Chamber). This material was illuminating and enhanced my understanding of the character without contradicting information from the comics.
Plotwise, Emma Frost was somewhat of a central character through much of the novel. Early on she and the others see what apparitions of her deceased students, the Hellions. This topic has provided much of the adult angst in the comic book series, however, and little new was said here.
The other characters--Paige, M, Jubilee, Sean, and Penance--were all present and handled well. But nothing about the novel's treatment of these characters was noteworthy or memorable.
The standout character of the novel is the new student from Nebraska, Walter Nowland, codenamed "Statis" because of his ability to manipulate ambient static electricity. Walter is the only really three-dimensional character in the book, and he largely saves it from being completely pedestrian. He is also largely figuring out what menace the group faces, and for thwarting it. Walter is a very endearing character with surprising depth and originality, but the regular characters actually suffer by comparison.
Unfortunately, this means that while Generation X isn't a complete waste of paper for fans of the series, it does little to supplement one's understanding of the regular characters. The novel leaves so much potential material untapped. Any one of the kids could easily be the focus of an entire novel. The fact that Generation X barely probed depths beyond what can be found in a regular issue of the comic book series was a disappointment.
The lack of great character insights and exploration is not even offset by a great action-packed plot or compelling villain. The main plot basically has most of the team filled with despair. I actually found this very unusual and interesting. But I'm sure that many readers won't find malaise a sufficiently exciting central theme.
The major subplot features Synch and Skin going into Boston on their own for a few days. They see some historic sites, which is pretty interesting as well as educational, and meet up with a couple of freshmen college girls who they ask out to eat. These scenes aren't exactly high-concept science fiction, but they're fun.
Then things turn sour when the girls, Amanda and LaWanda, invite Angelo (Skin) and Everett (Synch) to a party. The party turns out to be the organizing meeting of the Boston chapter of the Friends of Humanity, an anti-mutant hate group. The novel offers a significant behind-the-scenes glimpse at this social/political movement. A few compelling anti-mutant arguments are expressed, but overall this subplot goes nowhere new. Once they learn that Angelo and Everett are mutants, LaWanda (who is black) and Amanda (Asian) never seem very realistic. The same stereotypes of anti-mutant leaders and anti-mutant rallies that are perpetually shown in the comics are paraded around, with little of the additional depth that one would expect to find in a novel.
The fact that Synch learns that the leader of the anti-mutant group in Boston turns is himself a mutant, apparently without knowing it, who has the ability to transfix crowds with his oratory, is vaguely novel but hardly satisfying. It's also a cheap gimmick that lets the book avoid the question of whether or not anti-mutant sentiments have merit and why otherwise nice people would support the Friends of Humanity.
On its own, the Skin-and-Synch-in-Boston subplot is a mildly fun diversion, but it also detracts from the novel as a whole because it has hardly anything to do with the main plot. Other than serving to get two characters out of the mansion for a few days so that they avoid the villain's takeover and can assist in a rescue, the subplot has nothing to do with the main plot. Neither contributes thematically to the other and one is left feeling that Lobdell and Maggin wrote two separate books and squashed them together.
One strong redeeming feature in the novel is Maggin's subtle but well-executed venture into areas of faith. Even when faced with a terminal illness, Walter has an amazingly positive attitude, due in part to guidance from beyond the grave (a ghost named Hiram) as well as faith in an afterlife. Maggin is a practicing Jew and has brought an intelligent, affirmative faith-based perspective to all of his novels, this one included. These elements are not overwhelming in the book, and are handled so generically and thoughtfully that they will not bother non-religious readers. But Maggin's appreciation of spirituality, ethical values, and non-quantifiable truths mark him as a student of such talented and well-rounded writers as C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesteron, Orson Scott Card, and J. R. R. Tolkien.
Unless you're a diehard fan of Generation X, Scott Lobdell, or Elliot S. Maggin, Generation X is a novel you should probably avoid. Fans of the series will find this prose treatment format interesting, especially as it was co-written by the series creator. Fans of Maggin's novels will find it interesting to see how this work fits in between his earlier Superman novels and his later masterpiece Kingdom Come. Thus, the novel may satisfy certain academic curiosities. But as a source of simple reading enjoyment, this book will only be read enthusiastically by young or fairly inexperienced readers.